Don M. Fox
in Chaumont

Webmaster : Ivan Steenkiste

Don M. FOX from Jacksonville, Fl. USA,  visited Chaumont and Grandru in the Belgian Ardennes in September 2008. It was a real pleasure to meet this talented author of "Patton's Vanguard", a book that captures a detailed description on the battles fought by the legendary Fourth Armored Division, Third US Army of General George S. Patton.

 

Don was highly impressed when he stood in front of the famous Beech Tree at Chaumont, that was once the silent witness of a terrible tank battle lead by the 8th Tank Battalion under General Albin F. Irzyk's command, and assisted among others by the 80th Infantry Division and the 10th Armored Infantry Battalion, under the leadership of Colonel Howard Cohen.

 

Don says : My first book, "Patton's Vanguard" was published in hardcover in 2003, and re-released in soft-cover in 2007. Born of my interest in the history of WWII, "Patton's Vanguard" is a detailed account of Patton's most famous division, the 'Fourth Armored'.

Patton's Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division by Don M. Fox , published by McFarland, 2003 ISBN 0786415827, 9780786415823 - 484 pages

 

Don M Fox and Ivan Steenkiste at Hotel Grandru in front of the "Wall of Remembrance", an idea of another US historian David Graham  from Ohio, Columbus. The "Wall of remembrance" contains some frames with from top to bottom, (1) a picture of General Albin F. Irzyk, Commander of the 8th Tank Battalion, when he visited Chaumont in December 2006 and his message to the people of Chaumont, (2) a frame offered by John Hunter Harris (22nd FAB) with original pieces of a German parachute that was found near a shot down Ju-88 at Chaumont, and (3) a frame offered by Charles Scott Carson (10th AIB) containing pieces of original supply parachutes that were dropped near Chaumont

 


Don M. Fox (right) and Ivan Steenkiste (webmaster) at Hotel Grandru
in front of the "Wall of Remembrance", a major contribution by another US Historian, David Graham.

 

About Don's book

Stirring accounts of the almost legendary campaigns of the United States Fourth Armored Division, universally recognized as "Patton's Best," from its pre-World War II origins up through its famous relief of the 101st Airborne Division during the Battle of the Bulge are presented in this book. The break out of Normandy at Avranches, the isolation of the Brittany peninsula, the armored thrust across France, the tank battles at Arracourt that cemented the reputation of the Fourth Armored, the brutal struggle in Lorraine, and, ultimately, the legendary drive to Bastogne are among the topics. The accounts were assembled through the use of original unit combat diaries and after-action reports, memoirs of key historical figures and abundant supplementary documents and correspondences. But the essence of the book are the first-hand recollections from members of the division gathered by the author. With maps, drawings and photographs.

From Patton biographer and noted military historian Martin Blumenson:
 
"Don Fox's history of the division does it honor. His account...is the best description of combat I have ever seen.  He has described the fighting at Avranches, Troyes, and, of course, Bastogne, as prime examples of courage, competence, and ardor, not only  the will to win but also the know-how."

From (Ret) Brigadier General Albin F. Irzyk, commanding officer of the 8th Tank Battalion during WWII:
 
"(Patton's Vanguard) is a splendid - no - fantastic piece of work. It is the most detailed book by far that has yet been written about the unit actions of the 4th AD."

A review by Army Magazine - June 2004
Patton's Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division
Army, Jun 2004 by Hymel, Kevin M
Patton's Vanguard: The United States Army Fourth Armored Division. Don M. Fox. McFarland & Company, Inc. 484 pages; black & white photographs; maps; index; $55.


During World War II, the 4th Armored Division played a vital role in Gen. George S. Patton's Third Army. It broke out of the Allied beachhead in northern France and led the pursuit of the German army across the country. As it neared the border with Germany and ran low on gas, the division continued to fight the enemy, keeping the Germans off balance and ruining any hope of a counteroffensive. When the Germans finally launched an attack against the First Army in the Battle of the Bulge, the 4th was sent barreling north to relieve the besieged town of Bastogne, where the beleaguered 101st Airborne Division and elements of other units held the Germans at bay.

Now there is a unit history worthy of the 4th's exploits. Don Fox has painstakingly put together veterans' interviews, after action reports and combat histories, combined with excellent analysis and a macro view of the war in Europe, to make this highly readable and informative book.

While Fox does an excellent job of describing the 4th's victories, he is also unflinching about its defeats. He praises examples of good leadership and shows the consequences of bad. he also provides concrete evidence of why the 4th was considered the best armored division in the European Theater of Operations. For example, tankers in the 4th always kept their hatches open to better communicate with the infantry, while most others did not.

The action is conveyed well and battles are excellently related. Fox also debunks some of the myths and clears up some gray areas about the 4th, including the reported loss of 33 tanks by the 8th Tank Battalion before the battles for Bastogne. None were actually lost.

The author also explores why Maj. Gen. John S. Wood, the division's commander, was fired after so much success. For years, the official story was that Wood suffered from exhaustion, forcing Patton to relieve him. In reality, Wood was insubordinate to his corps commander when he defended the actions of one of his combat command leaders, who was not pressing his attacks and acting aggressively enough.

Fox also investigates the question of who ordered the 4th's Combat Command R into a position to enter Bastogne and made the decision to make the final push into Bastogne. By a process of elimination, the author claims that neither Patton nor the corps commander, Gen. John Millikin, was recorded making the decision; he concludes that it was most likely Wood's replacement, Gen. Hugh Gaffey, who made the call.

The book ends in January 1944 with the successful defense of the corridor leading to Bastogne. Volume II, which Fox is working on, will encompass the rest of the war. The book could have benefited from more and better maps.

Up until now, the best portrait of the 4th Armored Division has been Brig. Gen. Albin Irzyk's he Rode Up Front for Patton. Now, Patton's Vanguard gives a larger, more detailed picture of the 4th, and is well told.

Kevin M. Hymel